Climate Change 101 Highlights

November 30, 2022

Welcome to a delayed but still relevant recap of Climate Change 101! As we get the blog active after a long Covid hiatus we are ironing out some logistics, but we are excited to be sharing event highlights and interesting energy and resource updates again!

Climate Change 101 kicked off earlier this semester with an overview of the science of climate change from Zeke Hausfather. Zeke, Climate Research Lead at Stripe, shared insights about global temperature observations on land and water. He also used fun, accessible memes to explain the impact of different sources of warming, while also sharing his insights about potential future scenarios from the IPCC models. 

During the Q&A Zeke provided great responses for students from resources on how to learn more, to his work at Stripe, and about starting a career in climate sustainability.

After our intro session with Zeke we moved on to the panel talks focusing on specific topics within climate change. These topics included: emissions reduction in energy, emissions reduction in heavy industries, innovation and funding, corporate sustainability, and policy and advocacy.

Breakout Sessions

 Emissions Reduction in Energy

The Emissions Reduction in Energy panel featured Anna Brockway from Southern California Edison, and Andrew Campbell from Berkeley’s own Energy Institute at Haas, moderated by Ben Brint, a Master in Public Policy (MPP) student at Cal’s Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP). Highlights from this discussion included insight about commitments written into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and how both bills incentivize decarbonization with the potential to be transformative for the East coast especially. Grid infrastructure was another feature in the discussion as Anna pointed out how the grid has been built to serve predictable loads and with climate change, we need to reconsider our demand forecasting as electrification in all sectors increases the burden on the grid. This is challenging work, especially as renewables become more significant contributors to the grid. Lastly the group touched on equitable distribution of energy, and how students could stay engaged in climate change updates by collaborating with peers and experts across the wide range of disciplines that are needed for a successful energy transition.

Innovation & Funding 

Sanjay Wagle - founder of The Lightsmith Group and Cal alum - shared insights from his 20 years investing in climate solutions. After covering a brief history of cleantech VC, which includes the failure of what he called Cleantech 1.0 and its rebuilding, he moved on to the Lightsmith Group. 

Sanjay highlighted the core focal points of The Lightsmith Group: climate adaptation and resilience. The risks posed by the increasing severity of wildfires, storms, and heatwaves call for rapid adaptation in how we as a society do things. Adaptation should not be seen just as spending more today to lessen a greater future cost.Adaptation is instead leveraging technology, data, and analytics to better manage how businesses respond to climate change. One example of this is how supply chain management software has a multi-billion dollar market since it can assess and manage climate-related risks in the supply chain, thus enabling modifications in the core business operation. 

To address resilience, Sanjay highlighted the need to invest in natural systems like afforestation, soil carbon, and regenerative agriculture, among others. There are great potential benefits in these paths, but implementation is slow to occur. One of the limitations to investing in these areas is  the switching time, which, in a field like regenerative agriculture can be 3 to 4 years.. One possibility that was suggested to address this issue is using carbon offset credits to incentivize the switch. Further work can be done to better understand and implement new investment in these areas.

Emissions Reduction: Heavy Industries 

Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ Eric Trusiewicz discussed how to decarbonize construction through cement and concrete. The discussion with Eric focused on the role of heavy industries in emissions reduction. He worked through the process of cement manufacture and how it is a CO2- and energy intensive process. Cement manufacturing, along with construction, and steel production, are considered hard-to-decarbonize sectors. This is due to the challenge of emissions being embodied in the materials and not simply part of energy production. In this discussion listeners learned about the work being done to reduce CO2 in the materials themselves. 

Corporate Sustainability

In our Corporate Sustainability session, we had a conversation between Robert Strand, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business at UC Berkeley, and Natalia Costa I Coromina, a Master of Development Practice student at UC Berkeley. They discussed a wide range of topics including the balance of responsibility between business, government and individuals, the concept of planetary boundaries, and climate optimism. They also touched on the differences between American and Nordic capitalism. As an avid proponent of Nordics’ way of doing business, Robert shared his opinion on the key features of Nordic companies, and mentioned Patagonia’s purpose-driven business model as an early example of Nordic capitalism spreading outside of the region. 

Policy and Advocacy

The final session of the day  was a panel on Policy and Advocacy with Molly Kawahata, a policy advisor for Energy and Climate Change at the White House during the Obama Administration, Jeffrey Wong, a sustainability analyst with the city of Oakland, and Dan Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and founder of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. Megan Harwood, an MPP student at GSPP after 7 years in the clean energy policy sector moderated.  The discussion started with Dan sharing a program he is working on: building 100,000 mini grids across Africa to provide energy for healthcare and environmentally just clean energy projects. When it came to Jeffrey's entry into the climate change space, he shared how getting into the details of the clean energy momentum in China was pivotal to this journey. He traveled to Beijing to help them figure out how to set a cap on coal consumption - a research important to the Paris Agreement. For Molly, it was the time when Obama was running for office that she became involved with the climate action related communications for the campaign. After Obama took office, Molly went to work at the White House to implement the climate action strategy but they soon learned how much room there is to improve the narrative around climate change such that it encourages action from the American people. Based on psychological research, she stressed the importance of hope as an emotion to invoke action on climate rather than fear or guilt.

 After the introductions, conversation shifted to how the policies in California have been extrapolated to national level. Jeffrey pointed out how Oakland's climate mitigation plan is ambitious, transformative and equitable. Molly, diving into why it took Congress 15 years to pass something like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), pointed out how any climate change action was best portrayed from the lens of public health. Minority groups are more likely to be living near fossil fuel refineries and are therefore likely going to be disproportionately affected by the pollution from these plants. Children growing up in these environments will also face increased risk of health consequences. From this perspective, there is no one who does not care about the health of children so it is important to talk about pollution as a core part of climate change to encourage action.Only once the narrative changed to the health impact of the marginalized communities did Congress start taking action. 

To wrap up the session speakers were asked where they would put 100 UC Berkeley students to make the most significant policy impact. Molly immediately stated that registering people to vote is the biggest action that we can take to fight climate change. For Dan, it is making technology in solar, storage, and energy more accessible to the communities needing it the most. Building on the same, Jeffrey said he would put students on projects that impact frontline communities in Oakland.

After all the sessions for the day finished, students had the opportunity to linger and chat amongst themselves to make connections and learn more about the community on campus both in BERC and beyond. We hope to see them again at future BERC events as we work towards making our world more sustainable!